Ambient Wonder

Ambient Wonder is the first alternative worship group in Norwich, attached to St Augustines C of E Church. In many ways the story of Ambient Wonder is like the story of most other alternative worship groups – it comes out of a desire to express worship in ways that connect with our everyday lives to bridge the pervasive secular/sacred divide in our lives, to stretch our wings from the cramped space of what we’ve always known, to create something beautiful, fun and real in our journey towards Christ. We want to engage with and express the culture of which we are a part.

So far we’re still really young, having just held our 10th event over the past 4 terms and so we’ve really only reached the first chapter. The desire to hold the events and draw together like-minded people came primarily from a mission perspective – we wanted to be a place where people who didn’t know what they thought or felt about God could experience something spiritual in a way that relates to the rest of their lives. We wanted to be a community that people could be part of, participate in and contribute to. Where our common humanity and reaching out to the Divine gave us strength and nourishment. And we wanted those who were jaded or hurt by their experiences of church to find a place to be themselves and not feel like misfits.

The name Ambient Wonder is meant to convey the sense of completely surrounding and encircling and also the space to speculate curiously, to feel wonder and amazement, to be in a state in which you want to learn about something, to express doubtful speculation, to be aware of something miraculous.

We’ve wanted this vision of a creating a different expression of church to pervade everything we do so that people who may not know our values can still intuitively know that what we’re doing isn’t window dressing. So its been important to define what our values are right from the start. Ambient wonder deliberately removes power from an individual at the front. We make a commitment to using all of our senses, drawing on the creativity within all of us and an expectation that the event is about creating space to explore and experience rather than to prescribe and give answers.

The people most committed to Ambient Wonder are group of ‘churched’ people trying to break outside the mould whilst maintaining the other expressions of the church at the same time – running Sunday morning services and music, outreach groups etc. As with all groups of people who are pressed for time and used to a system of one person taking responsibility for making sure things happen, its hard to adjust to planning co-operatively as its more time consuming. Ultimately though we feel its important that we hold fast to the value of involving as many people as possible, expecting to learn from everybody and not having a single leader.

Perhaps the thing that is most noticeable is how people outside the core group hold back from offering to contribute, sometimes even when directly asked, because they believe they aren’t “holy” enough or don’t know enough. So strong is the sense of being held back and contained by traditional church leadership structures in them that we are missing out on all the creativity and resourcefulness of those people!

We’ve found Mark Pierson’s concept of a ‘curator’ has really helped us organise ourselves. We were so desperate to operate in a counter-cultural system, outside the confines of a ‘leader’ ‘leading us’ through a series of experiences until we arrived where he or she wanted us to be. The use of language obviously influences how we interpret a task or role and how other people perceive us when we’re in that role; it has been great therefore to find words that take us outside of our previous experience and give us new boundaries. We’re planning to get together with an experienced art curator to talk about what curating means in that context so we can begin to think more creatively about what it could look like for us in the worship context.

We hope the next chapter of our story includes more people joining with us for the experience and more people feeling able to contribute to the planning of the events, so we can truly embody those values and get the benefits of each person’s unique perspective on reaching out to our knowable mysterious God.

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